The role of psychological education in recovering from traumatic events.
Recent events in Manchester and London have brought into sharp focus what can happen if you are the survivor of a traumatic event.
Over the last decade, psychologists have gained a better understanding of how the brain reacts to traumatic situations.
They have provided an easy to understand guide to how the body and mind react to traumatic situations and help answer the questions you may ask yourself such as
- ‘Why did I not run away?’
- ‘Why did I not fight or help others t?’
- ‘Why did I became so passive and frozen?
- ‘Why can’t I remember what happened?
Such questions can compound the survivor’s sense that somehow ‘it was your fault’ or ‘you allowed it to happen’.
This also plays into society’s view that by not putting up a fight or running away that somehow they were asking in for it, or at the very least complacent.
Researchers have discovered that in times of stress the middle brain known as the limbic system takes executive control of our actions.
This part of the brain evolved primarily to help us survive an attack by wild animals and other predators. As time has gone on, these type of threats has diminished, however, we still retain this primitive defence mechanism.
There are 5 potential choices the brain makes based on the perceived threat in a traumatic event
These are: –
The middle brain (limbic system) makes a choice on how to survive an abusive or traumatic encounter by choosing these options.
The first Friends is a very simple mechanism in which when in a difficult situation you signal to those around you that you need help. You do this by smiling in the hope you can attract an ally or a friend to come to your aid
The next best thing is to extract yourself from the situation by Flight, running away or escaping the traumatic situation.
If that is not an option, then Fight the abuse in the hope that they withdraw.
The difficulty with Flight and Fight is that they use physical resources and may not be successful if the attacker is stronger and faster.
In cases like this, you sometimes Freeze, this has a number of evolutionary advantages.
By not moving it becomes harder for a predator to locate you if you are hiding, also some animals will not eat meat they have not killed.
By pretending to be dead it may be the predator just moves on and leaves you alone.
Flop is caused by the brain overloading with frightening or traumatic stimuli, as a consequence, individuals in very stressful situations may disassociate or shut down.
In cases like this you may have a ‘fleeting’ memory of the event or may not be able to produce a complete memory of what happened- this is quite normal in these situations
Researchers in trauma suggest that if you had mild symptoms of PTSD such as flashbacks or intrusive memories of the event for less than four weeks to monitor if they subside.
This process is known as
’ as 2 in every 3 people who develop problems after a traumatic experience get better within a few weeks without any further treatment or intervention.
If you are the 1 in 3 and the memories of the event, are still distressing you than counselling and medication can help.
Sometimes just talking to someone in a confidential and non Judgmetal setting can help